Advanced maternal age compromises fetal growth and induces sex-specific changes in placental phenotype in rats.
Advanced maternal age is associated with an increased risk of pregnancy complications. It programmes sex-specific cardiovascular dysfunction in rat offspring, however the intrauterine mechanisms involved remain unknown. This study in the rat assessed the impact of advanced maternal age on placental phenotype in relation to the growth of female and male fetuses. We show that relative to young (3-4 months) dams, advanced maternal age (9.5-10 months) compromises growth of both female and male fetuses but affects the placental phenotype sex-specifically. In placentas from aged versus young dams, the size of the placental transport and endocrine zones were increased and expression of Igf2 (+41%) and placental lactogen (Prl3b1: +59%) genes were upregulated in female, but not male fetuses. Placental abundance of IGF2 protein also decreased in the placenta of males only (-95%). Moreover, in placentas from aged versus young dams, glucocorticoid metabolism (11β-hsd2: +63% and 11β-hsd1: -33%) was higher in females, but lower in males (11β-hsd2: -50% and 11β-hsd1: unaltered). There was however, no change in the placental abundance of 11β-HSD2 protein in aged versus young dams regardless of fetal sex. Levels of oxidative stress in the placenta were increased in female and male fetuses (+57% and +90%, respectively) and apoptosis increased specifically in the placenta of males from aged rat dams (+700%). Thus, advanced maternal age alters placental phenotype in a sex-specific fashion. These sexually-divergent changes may play a role in determining health outcomes of female and male offspring of aged mothers.